Taipei on the Rise
Yeoh Siew Hoon makes a trip to Asia’s hottest travel destination.
It’s a safe city to wander around on foot. You don’t have to worry about getting lost – people are genuinely kind and will accompany you to your destination even if it means going out of their way.
It was somehow a fitting end to the year that I should take my last trip of 2014 to Taipei.
Did you know that, according to tourism data, year to date, Taiwan is the fastest growing inbound destination in the world? It recorded a 26.7% rise in foreign visitors coming to the island, with Japan and Mexico following closely behind. The biggest source of growth is from Asia, mainly thanks to budget airlines that have made travelling to Taipei more affordable. From January to September 2014, travellers from Asia grew by 25.01% to reach a high of over 7 million. By next month, Taiwan will exceed a total of 9 million visitors and is aiming for 10 million by 2016.
This is all very good timing for Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, Taipei, which has just emerged from a US$45 million renovation programme. The lobby is looking brighter and all 420 rooms have been upgraded.
The room I stayed in was elegant and well designed, with ultra-comfortable beds and a well-lit, functional working area. Coming from densely populated Singapore where space is at a premium, I appreciate the spacious quarters and, in particular, bathroom.
The truth is, I am very particular about bathrooms. It’s the first place I look at when I check into a hotel room. In Shangri-La’s case, the bathroom comes with a sizeable bath and a separate shower with a huge rain showerhead that always makes you feel like you’re standing underneath a waterfall.
I was intrigued about the strategically placed TV screen, offering entertainment (or distraction) while you spend time in the bathroom. I asked the general manager, Marcel Holman, how many people actually use it and he said, “You’d be surprised. People really like this feature.”
My favourite feature of the room, however, remains to be the spectacular view of Taipei 101. This icon symbolises a city on the cusp of change and taking its rightful place amongst Asia’s tourism hotspots.
You see why it has become such a popular holiday spot – in fact, Taipei is the kind of place that makes you wonder why it took you so long to visit.
Firstly, the service attitude in Taiwan is exemplary. There is a genuine desire to be of service. I saw that in the staff at Shangri-La’s Far Eastern Plaza Hotel, Taipei and almost everywhere I went, from traditional restaurants and spas to taxis.
Secondly, it’s a safe city to wander around on foot. You don’t have to worry about getting lost – people are genuinely kind and will accompany you to your destination, even if it means going out of their way. Walk around the city and you will see an amazing outpouring of creativity and individual expression in its cafes, shops and hotels.
At the Frog Café in Yongle, an up-and-coming district that’s being gentrified, a group of youths have opened a business that gives them an outlet for free expression of their aspirations and interests. Their shop sells nature-inspired arts and crafts, and – would you believe it – their scones are simply delicious. Only with globalisation can such pleasant surprises be created. Who would have expected scones, so traditionally English, can be made so well by young Taiwanese?
But what the Taiwanese are really good at is their street food. Stop at the many stalls along the streets and sample the delectable snacks – a walking tour of Taipei is like tucking into a giant buffet spread. Pop into the local restaurants, too, and try congee or rice that comes with numerous dishes, from pork leg braised in soya sauce and braised goose meat to, my favourite, chai por (turnip) omelette. The one thing I can’t get into, hard as I try, is fermented bean curd. You can’t miss it at first whiff.
After a day of walking, pop into a massage parlour and enjoy a full-body massage. I had one of the best massages I’ve ever experienced in Taipei. The masseurs are very professional and good at what they do. My masseur even saw me off to make sure I got a taxi home. I must look her up next time.
I know for sure that there will be a next time very soon. There is so much more to Taiwan than Taipei, so next time, it’s off to the mountains and coastline. May you continue to spread the love of travel in 2015.